If you haven’t been living in seclusion this week, then you will know already that David Bowie died on Sunday. I learnt of it on Monday morning from my husband staring at the computer screen, quietly in tears.
Almost too much to put into words.
Everyone has their own Bowie story, what he meant, what he did, how he changed them or their vision of life, or their recognition of themselves. Tilda Swinton has a story about being 13 and buying Aladdin Sane, even though she didn’t have a record player, because she had never seen anyone else who looked like her, like Bowie did on that record cover. Everyone has an individual story.
Coming from the generation we did (and he was not limited to a generation, he was every fan’s Bowie), I wrote the following to my sister on Monday:
I feel emotional but celebratory, I do feel teary, but also quite deeply proud that he was our one, as the kids who missed the 60s but witnessed the power of art and a whole different kind of courage in him and Angie and their crew. But what a victory and vindication, this strange boy who never really appeared to stick with one thing, or do those things that people think of as the mark of “authenticity” or “well roundedness” or “maturity” or individuation, and was as you say primarily a collaborator, so completely vindicated by artistry that could even match the fact of death. He got there, he really did. The fairy tale was real. What an achievement, what a Capricornian feat. They have been interviewing people on the news, and 18 year olds are saying “he taught me I could be myself”, which is so near as dammit exactly what a 15 year old in 1973 would have said, just a bit more colourfully. There is a street party in Brixton as we speak, by the Aladdin Sane mural. There is a little shrine in Soho at the site of the Ziggy photo shoot. And he has gone, no encore, no curtain call, left the building. What a fucking showman. All the surfaces and artifices had a meaning, but only for the individuals that wanted them. It was all messages to individuals.
A transcendent act of communication. If you got the message, you were part of it. He must have set so many people free, because I know what he did for us in ’73, and he obviously kept on doing it, decade after decade for people, from the reaction of those who aren’t middle aged ex-glam kids.
There was this whole thing with Ziggy, who we believed was Bowie then (half make-believe, half unashamed fan hysteria), whose life and death we lived through, who was the star man, the alien love rock god; this thing of the rock n roll suicide, the death and disappearance at the height of his fame and adulation (it was the self-conscious myth). The age-defining presence on stage, dramatically transformed into an absence.
On 8th January 2016, Bowie’s birthday, he released the Blackstar album. Two days later he was dead.
Ziggy didn’t just play guitar.
Back in 1973 he reached the height of his tongue in cheek, unstable, transformed beauty in Aladdin Sane, then fled to America as the blue eyed soul boy, returned as the Thin White Duke and had his beautiful, alien status immortalised in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth. Then it was off to Berlin with Iggy, as ever, divining new things. And on. But you always remember when you first saw that light of difference, the other that was you, or a part of you, or the life that could be. I think I was 14 at the time. It sang, like Ziggy: “oh no love, you’re not alone”.
An artist-magician, playing with being and time, surfaces and meanings, futures and nostalgia, otherness and possibility. More grace, premonition and talent than one person should have been able to embody. We always said he was a genius, and the kids were right.
Gone, like the bullet straight out the barrel of a gun.
A jeweled seed case, and a million scattered children.